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Pilgrimage to Lourdes

 Header - On a Pilgrimage of desolation and growth at Lourdes

By John Horvat II


Upon arriving in Lourdes on pilgrimage on a cold, rainy winter day, I was feeling very much the pilgrim. I was cold, tired, and wet. The long trip had been exhausting and the walk in the drizzling rain from the train station to the hotel had drained me of energy. 

Grotto of Our Lady of LourdesAs I headed to the grotto of Our Lady, I was hoping to find consolation and comfort. However, the place that had been such a source of blessings before, now felt dreary and uninviting. Walking back to the hotel, there was an eerie silence around the sanctuary that left me perplexed. Nothing seemed to be going as planned.

The next morning after a good night’s rest, I returned to discover what others had told me was really true. During the winter, this extremely popular Marian shrine visited by millions is largely empty. There are no rosary processions or other activities. I had come prepared for “empty” but not for “desolate.”

 

A Desolate Picture

However, that is what I found. During the winter, and especially this very cold winter, Lourdes is absolutely desolate. There is no other word to describe it. All the hotels, restaurants, and shops are shuttered in the general sanctuary area. My own hotel had just two occupants. Almost no one was in the streets. Even the omnipresent souvenir shops were limited to five or six that stayed open for limited hours.

There were times—during the day as well as night—when absolutely no one was in the large basilica plaza that normally holds thousands. At the grotto itself, usually only a few knelt before Our Lady.

And it was freezing. The cold that comes off the river near the Grotto could chill you to the bone. At night, walking the five blocks back to the hotel in the empty streets, I would pray that I would not be attacked in my vulnerability. I later came to the conclusion that not even the thieves thought it worth their while to stalk these cold deserted streets.

Thus, my one-week pilgrimage of desolation began. My last trip had been at the height of the summer when one sees Lourdes in all its glory, full of people, magnificent processions and graces. Now, it felt as if I had walked out of a color picture into a black-and-white print. I would have to endure a pilgrimage quite different from the merely “empty” one that I had planned.

 

Pilgrimage Inside the Silence

Indeed, it took a little while to get used to the desolation, silence, and cold. As I made my way to the Grotto several times a day, I came to realize there was something very calming and alluring about the shrine without all the “noise” of the crowds. It increasingly drew me there.

LourdesWhen the noise stops, it is easier to notice things. The sanctuary bells seemed to be crisper and more beautiful. Sights like the lighted medieval castle that at night appeared to float on the hill near the sanctuary seemed more fairytale-like. The candles seem to burn with greater intensity.

Although it is probably theologically incorrect, it seemed the prayers at the sanctuary were more unobstructed. You had the sense that your prayers were going straight to Our Lady at the Grotto.

There was especially noticeable at night amid the cold when the rest of the world disappeared and only the heavens above could be seen.

One night, snow started to fall that only added to this overall impression of calm isolation. You felt that you could stay for hours, but there was always a point when the maternal solicitude of Our Lady intervened and you sensed it was time to leave the cold and return to the warm hotel.

  

 

A Tremendous Unburdening

Of course, some things at the sanctuary were still open despite everything. These included the baths. The baths are enclosed shallow stone pools with water from the miraculous spring at the Grotto. Pilgrims are invited to immerse themselves in the pools for healing of mind and body. Usually the baths are full of lines of pilgrims divided by men and women waiting their turn. However, this time I was the only one there.

The baths are a great wonder of Lourdes. The volunteers who help you are extremely respectful and charitable. Everything is done modestly and without any embarrassment. The aproned helpers hold a towel in front of you as you prepare for the bath and then wrap it around you. They lead you to the pool and then ask you to pray with them. You are then told to sit in the pool and the water comes up to your neck.

Thankfully the water was cold but not the icy cold that I expected. The helpers then offered me water from a pitcher to wash my face and drink. I did not receive any special cure after the baths, but I can say I sensed a tremendous unburdening of useless cares that stayed with me throughout the pilgrimage.

 

Sign at LourdesWasting Lourdes Water

I was disappointed by the new arrangements for getting Lourdes water. I had been used to the faucets right near the Grotto from which the water, like graces, flowed exuberantly and abundantly. This is no longer possible since the faucets have been removed and replaced with low volume faucets that will not allow a person to easily fill containers.

According to a brochure, the new faucets allow one to make a symbolic gesture of “washing” and “drinking.” To fill containers one must go to another place some seventy paces away near the river.

There was also a sign at both locations warning that water is a precious resource and should not be wasted. Given Our Lady’s spring has delivered millions of gallons of water to the faithful over the decades, it is hard not to see a disturbing ecological overtone to the new instructions…

 

The Wonders of Lourdes

There are many other wonders at Lourdes. I was, for example, struck at how the favors of Our Lady are literally written in stone. The inside walls of the Basilica, crypt and Rosary Chapel are all sheathed in marble stones engraved with thousands of messages of thanksgiving for graces given and cures received.

There is the marvelous Way of the Cross of life-size cast iron statues that occupies a huge hill next to the sanctuary. Again there was no one around, and I did the way of the cross alone. From the height of the Calvary, I was surprised by a magnificent panorama of the snow-capped Pyrenees Mountains.

And there was the charm of the town itself, the people, and its markets. The town center is some distance from the sanctuary and did have some activity that allowed one to interact with the people. There were also the pilgrims, albeit few, who share in the wonders done there and with whom you can talk. They come from all over the world drawn by Our Lady’s special blessings.

 

Ask Anything

The pilgrimage of desolation became one of consolation. In the desolate silence, you gradually acquired the habit of thinking, reflecting, and praying. What attracted me the most was the Grotto, which is the heart and soul of Lourdes. When you are almost alone with Our Lady, you experience a kind of sacral intimacy by which you feel you can ask her anything without inhibition. It was easy to spend time asking, asking, and asking yet again. There was time to pray for the crisis inside the Church, for America, and family and friends. And returning to the hotel, you thought of yet more things to ask.

And Our Lady responds by encouraging your petitions. Her statue at the Grotto is discrete, polite, and very French. She looks slightly upward as if to say “ask me anything because I know how to arrange everything with my Son.” And you are compelled to comply.

 

Desolation or Crowds?

As the weekend approached, however, the “crowds” started to arrive. Sometimes thirty or even fifty people would arrive at a time. After a week of desolation, these few pilgrims seemed like a multitude that broke the desolation. Of course, I would never begrudge these pilgrims their chance to come to the Blessed Mother. But it ironically served to highlight that the desolation I had originally feared was now immensely treasured.

As one who has experienced both the pilgrimage of what might be called triumph (with the crowds) and that of desolation, I asked myself which one was preferable.

I am inclined to say both have their role. There are times in the history of the Church, like our own, that are best expressed by the desolation. It is then when pilgrimages like these teach us to abstract from the noise of the world and be attentive to grace. In the midst of the desolation, we sense a greater need to go straight to Our Lady unobstructed, and this gives us courage.

However, there are other times when the pilgrimage of triumph helps us grow spiritually. We sense the universal mission of the Church that joyfully unites all peoples. We sense the enormous attraction of the Church even in our neo-pagan times. It is good that there be huge triumphant rosary processions to assure us and to create in us the certainty that the Church will prevail despite everything.

In the pilgrimage of our own lives, we all go through times of desolation and triumph. Each has its role, lessons, and special graces. Both are necessary and part of life. The important thing is the object our pilgrimage which is found in Our Lady who leads us to God and heaven. With this in mind, whichever pilgrimage you choose, you will never go away disappointed.

Street in Lourdes

 


As seen in Crisis Magazine

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for November 30, 2020

Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and in...

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November 30

 

Our Lord has created persons for all states in life, and
in all of them we see people who achieved sanctity
by fulfilling their obligations well.

St. Anthony Maria Claret


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Andrew the Apostle

“Lord, receive me hanging from the wood of this sweet cros...

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St. Andrew the Apostle

   “O most beautiful Cross that was glorified by carrying the Body of Christ! Glorious Cross, sweetly desired, ardently loved, always sought, and finally prepared for my heart that has so long awaited you. Take me, O Cross! Embrace me. Release me from my life among men. Bring me quickly and diligently to the Master. Through you He will receive me, He, Who through you has saved me.”

Thus did the Apostle Andrew salute the cross upon which he was to die. For two days he hung upon it and never ceased preaching to the crowds that gathered round him. Who was Andrew? And how had he come to embrace so willingly – no, more, to long for – this universal symbol of infamy?

Andrew was an elder brother of Simon Peter and both plied their trade of fishermen on the tempestuous Sea of Galilee. Sons of Jonas, they lived in the fishing village of Bethsaida, a town much frequented by Our Lord during His public ministry. Andrew had become an early disciple of St. John the Baptist and it was while listening to him preach on the banks of the River Jordan one day that John’s words set him on a course he was to follow for the rest of his life. “Behold the Lamb of God,” proclaimed the Baptist on seeing Our Lord approach. Immediately, Andrew and another disciple followed Him.

The words of this beautiful prayer attributed to the Apostle Andrew upon meeting his cross show that he had known for a long time that he would be a martyr. He had meditated on it in relation to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He entirely understood and loved the hour of his supreme suffering. He completely accepted the chalice God had prepared for him to drink.

The cross was a symbol of punishment and was reserved for criminals. But for Andrew, it was a “most beautiful” thing because it had been “glorified by carrying the body of Christ.”

Then, he added that he had “sweetly desired it.” With this, one understands that for years he had prepared himself to offer this disinterested holocaust: to be killed for the love of Our Lord, to allow himself to be consumed and spent like the perfume that Mary Magdalene spilt to honor Our Lord. There was no practical goal in those acts of homage. They were sacrifices made for no other reason than to please God: to expend precious things to manifest love for Him. Even if his sacrifice would not produce a good for souls and a humiliation for the enemies of the Church, Andrew wanted do die a martyr to prove how much he loved Our Lord. This is why he said he had “sweetly desired” to be crucified. The words express the splendor of the soul of a martyr.
The Apostle continued by saying that he had “ardently awaited” the cross. Today men flee far from any kind of suffering, any kind of fight against their own passions, any kind of renunciation. For them to live is to enjoy a good life. Andrew, however, ardently awaited his own cross because he understood that what counts in life is not the pleasure he has, but the sacrifice he makes. This is what gives meaning to life. Therefore, the truly supernatural man is a friend of the cross, as St. Louis Marie de Montfort said so well.

Andrew not only accepted the crosses given him during his life, but he looked for them. This is clear when he said that he had “always sought” sacrifice. Then, in the hour of his martyrdom he had that marvelous reaction – he said that his “heart had long awaited” the crucifixion. Which one of us can say a thing like that? What a sublime courage Andrew had in saying these words, which, however, came to his lips naturally and with complete serenity because he had always lived in preparation for that.

Our Lord said that there is no greater friend than one who would give his life for the other. No one can give a greater proof of friendship with Our Lord than to desire the cross like this Apostle did.

He continued: “Take me, O Cross! Embrace me. Release me from my life among men. Bring me quickly and diligently to the Master. Through you He will receive me, He, Who through you has saved me.” Can any soul be more prepared for the beatific vision than one who would make this prayer at the hour of his death?

After his crucifixion, Andrew remained two days hanging on the cross before dying. While he was on the cross he was teaching the people who came to watch him die. How priceless that teaching was! What "cathedra" could ever be more sublime to teach people from? These were his last words:

Lord, eternal King of glory, receive me hanging from the wood of this sweet cross. Thou who art my God, whom I have seen, do not permit them to loosen me from the cross. Do this for me, O Lord, for I know the virtue of Thy Holy Cross.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

Whoever recites this prayer fifteen times a day from the fea...

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A Christmas Prayer

(It is piously believed that whoever recites the below prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Patron of Scotland; 30th Nov.) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)

America Needs Fatima also believes it's pleasing and efficacious any time of the year.

Click the image to download it.

 

Whoever recites this prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30th Nov.) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.

 

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